The National Investigation Agency (NIA) was left red-faced recently when it released the name and photograph of a businessman, Mahesh Agarwal of Adhunik Group, which runs coal and steel plants, in its list of most wanted.
And so, for almost nine months, the businessman whose companies do business in thousands of crores appeared in the “most wanted” section of the NIA’s website, usually reserved for global terrorists such as Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) chief Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, and Hizbul Mujahideen leader Syed Salahuddin, their local cadres, and others accused of heinous crimes against the country.
The agency had to take down Agarwal’s name from the section last month after the Jharkhand high court, earlier this year, asked it not to take any coercive action against him.
Agarwal, managing director of Adhunik Power and Natural Resources Limited (APNRL), which runs a coal based transmission power unit in Jharkhand, was arraigned as an accused by NIA in a charge sheet filed on January 10 this year for allegedly funding the activities of a Maoist-backed group Tritiya Prastuti Committee (TPC).
The case, which dates back to 2016, pertains to extortion by Naxal groups from businessmen, transporters and contractors in the coal-rich regions of Bihar and Jharkhand. TPC, a Maoist organisation was receiving money in the names of its leader, according to the charge sheet, a copy of which has been reviewed by HT.
The agency alleged in its supplementary charge sheet against Agarwal that on his direction, payment of Rs 200 per metric ton of coal was made to coal transporters against work orders for the purpose of paying to TPC operatives and village committees for smooth functioning of his business.
On the basis of the charge sheet, a Special NIA court in Ranchi issued a non-bailable warrant against Agarwal on January 17 after which NIA put his name and photograph in the most wanted list on its website.
Agarwal’s lawyer Nitesh Rana filed an interlocutory application in the Jharkhand HC that by putting his name in most wanted list, the NIA damaged his reputation. Rana said: “My client has been falsely implicated in the case. He was an NIA witness till last year. In fact, the agency approached Special court in Ranchi in March 2019 for recording his statement under section 164 of CrPC as a witness. However, all of sudden, he was arraigned as an accused this year despite the fact that his name was not there in the FIR.”
Rana said that they had challenged the charge sheet but the agency still went ahead and included his name in its most wanted list. And there it stayed.
NIA officer, Subodh Sharma, said in an affidavit filed before the HC on November 3 that the agency removed Agarwal’s name from the list on October 21. The agency, however, defended its charges against Agarwal. NIA officials declined comment.